Reinventing The Square Wheel

Submitted by C B Wright on

From Lost and Found, by Matt Milligan. Nevermind what it is... look at the shiny.

You can almost set your watch to it: every year some president or spokesman from a company that isn't Microsoft makes the grandiose pronouncement that Personal Computers are dead, and that the successor to the PC just happens to be, by nothing more than fortuitous coincidence, something they happen to be selling at the time.

This time around it's Johnathan Schwartz, president of Sun Microsystems. Sun actually has a grand tradition of heralding the end of Personal Computers -- Sun has used the phrase "The Network Is the Computer" for years, trying to shift the focus of computer use to the internet, to programs that run over networks instead of on your hard drive... but I suspect they'd be happy with anything that would rip users away from Microsoft's lock on desktop computers and get them to focus on other ways to "do stuff with those computer things."

Of course, all these companies who talk about how the PC is going to be replaced by other things -- usually the internet or a business network -- try very hard to convince us that, from our perspective, nothing will actually "change." Our end-user experience will be exactly the same, they claim. We won't realize that when we boot up our machines we'll be reaching across the internet to retrieve all our data, access all our programs, and do all the things we've been doing with our computers. Write a note to a friend, write the great American novel, balance your checkbook, do your taxes... even, God forbid, publish a web comic, all of these things can be done with programs on the internet, through your web browser, via java applets or Microsoft .NET, or something else they haven't bothered to fill us in on, and -- here's the important part -- we'll never know the difference.

After carefully considering this Prophetic Vision of Silicon Developments Yet To Come, I have composed a response that I feel accurately sums up my opinion:


Open By Any Other Name Is Closed

Submitted by C B Wright on

From Help Desk, by yours truly.

Once upon a time there was a group named OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards), a

"not-for-profit, global consortium that drives the development, convergence and adoption of e-business standards."

The purpose of OASIS was, simply, to come up with a bunch of standards that its members would agree on, so that when business technology was built it would operate in such a way so that it would work everywhere. The groups sponsors included giants in the computer industry, such as Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and even Microsoft. The group would meet to try and work out, for example, a standard way to exchange information about security vulnerabilities of applications exposed to networks, or a universally accessable system for writing structured documents using SGML or XML. Things that were useful, in other words, for business that needed to transmit information from one place to another without worrying about whether or not the place receiving the information was going to understand what was being sent.

One day OASIS decided it would be a great idea if there was an open standard for word processing application suites that provided a universal file format for text documents, spreadsheets, charts, and graphics. This standard, which they called OpenDocument, was a royalty-free file format that used another standard, XML, as the way that information in these documents would be stored. Any word processing program could use this standard royalty-free, and any word processing program that did use this standard would be able to read a file created by any other word processing program that also supported this standard. Suddenly it was possible to focus on creating your information instead of worrying over which program to use to create it.

On May 23, 2005, OASIS' members approved the OpenDocument standard.

On August 29, 2005, Peter Quinn, Chief Information Officer of the Information Technology Division of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts announced that the state would use OpenDocument as its official documentation standard.

Shortly thereafter, Microsoft had a cow.

The Lawyers Went Down To Delhi

Submitted by C B Wright on

From Lost and Found, by Matt Milligan.

Edited 6 Sept 2005: I've been meaning to update this article for days, and I've been irresponsibly lax in not doing so. It has been pointed out by a reader that what the MPAA has done in Delhi is in violation of the Indian constitution, and will inevitably be overturned by their Supreme Court. This is a very good thing. That said, that the MPAA managed to convince a magistrate to authorize something that violates Indian law doesn't make me feel much better about the situation.

The Motion Picture Association of America is concerned about piracy -- specifically, about people pirating movies and distributing them on bootleg DVDs and over the internet. They're so concerned that they have even set up a space on their website where they publish press releases about the war on digital piracy. These press releases are usually in Microsoft Word format, occasionally in PDF format, and proudly announce all the victories that Hollywood has achieved in its never-ending war against the people who illegally sell their product at a price much closer to what most of it is actually worth.

A PDF of a press release for July 26, 2005, for example, positively crowed about four lawsuits they filed in Waco, Texas against individuals who were illegally downloading and swapping movies online using peer to peer software. A Microsoft Word version of a press release for July 28, 2005 describes similar action taken against three individuals living in Rochester, New York.

Reading through these press releases, one wonders if the MPAA might be encountering a problem in regards to scale. Only four people? Only three people? Doesn't it take an awful lot of time and effort to catch people in the act of piracy? Isn't a three or four person lawsuit a rather unsatisfying return on your investment?

The MPAA apparently thinks so, because a press release issued on July 27, 2005 reveals a new, more efficient method of catching pirates: get a judge to give you the authority to search anywhere you want, in an entire city.

The city in question? Delhi, India, population 13,782,976.

That's right: the city has homes and offices for 13,782,976 people, and the MPAA can tell the police to search every single one of them. Just in case.

No Girls On The Net!

Submitted by C B Wright on

From General Protection Fault, by Jeff Darlington.

If you're reading this site it's unlikely that you're someone who is new to the Internet, but they're out there. Every day, more and more people are signing up and taking a look around: and what they find is usually strange, fascinating, frightening, and largely incomprehensible.

(And pornographic. Let's be honest... you can't swing a cat in the internet without hitting porn, and if you try to swing a cat there's probably someone out there willing to pay to see you swing said cat on a webcam. So yes, new users will find porn. A lot of porn. Whether they're looking for it or not. And eventually, if they've been on the net long enough, the porn will come looking for them.)

The internet can be a shock to a lot of people, but this shock can be minimized when more experienced users take them in hand and give them a basic structure to work from. To that end, and as a public service to my readers and the people they know who are taking those first, faltering steps as they peer into the great digital abyss, I would like to impart one of the great truths I have come to know over my many years online. This truth, known as "The Laws of Gender Discernment," can be summed up as follows:

Everyone you meet on the Internet is a man... with one exception.

I Hear It Also Cures The Lame

Submitted by C B Wright on

From Kernel Panic, by yours truly.

Just a very quick note, since I'm working on a much longer, more complicated article going up on Friday: last month -- July 14, to be exact -- the MP3 file format officially turned ten years old.

In related news, yesterday I broke a hip while yelling at those damn kids to get off my lawn.

When landmarks like this come around, it's tempting for people to start pontificating on the significance of the event. For example, next year, when Help Desk turns ten years old, I'll be tempted to look back and ruminate on all the vastly important and ground-breaking work I've done, like...

... um...

... well, I'll worry about it next year.

My point is that the MP3 file format turning ten is just the kind of milestone that provokes people in the know into coaxing out Deep Thoughts Concerning the Significance of the Event as it Pertains to History. And sure enough, over on CNET the technology editor for wrote an article called "Top five ways MP3 has changed the world."

As it stands, the article is almost entirely wrong. Not because the points he lists didn't happen (though a few of them are... odd), but because he makes the common mistake of giving the tool all the credit.